Policy or Pathologization?: Questions into the Rhetoric of Inclusion and Acceptance in Schools
In the wake of a study released by the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2012 that focused on student belonging, safety, and inclusion in schools, the Ontario government introduced the Accepting Schools Act (Bill 13), which was successively passed into law that year. As an amendment to the longstanding Education Act, Bill 13 was a turning point for discourse surrounding safe and accepting schools, due to a specific focus on bullying, discrimination, and inclusion in fostering positive school climates. Following the recurrent rhetoric of inclusion, however, Bill 13 – as both policy and practice – failed to locate and identify discrimination and exclusion as both systemic and structural problems. In doing so, Bill 13, and similar inclusive policies to follow, merely advocated for the inclusion of marginalized and “at-risk” students, while continuing to cite and valorize heteronormative, ableist, and colonial values as the benchmark of inclusion and belonging. Using the insights of critical pedagogy, queer studies, and critical disability studies, this paper aims to extend the dialogue of inclusion beyond the student “at-risk,” and instead, examine the ways that policy rhetoric upholds hostile and oppressive school climates. Thus, this paper argues for a critical reexamination of the ways in which colonial, ableist, and heterosexist standards of normality manifest in inclusive discourse and practice. In doing so, schools, policy-makers, students, and staff can move beyond damaging discourses that hinder the positive development of queer, two-spirit, trans, and questioning students, and in particular, students whose queerness intersects with their race, class, and/or disability.